Imogen Heap – Ellipse

If you’ve ever watched the movie Garden State, and wondered who is singing that song when Zach Braff is on the plane at the end, that’s Imogen Heap, with her former group, Frou Frou. Apparently she got sick of people thinking that all she did in the group was sing, so she procured a studio, and pretty much locked herself in for a year to write and record, “Speak for Yourself”, all by herself. You may have heard the vocal only song Hide and Seek if you are a fan of The O.C. As much as I made fun of that show, (while watching it on a regular basis) it certainly featured some fine music.

Overview
“Ellipse” is the follow-up record to “Speak for Yourself”, and has a similar overall feel (dreamy, airy, synthy pop, with lots of harmonies and odd vocal sounds), but with a few curveballs, such as Aha! (which sounds like it would be more comfortable on a Danny Elfman movie score), or Half-Life, which sounds strangely sensitive singer-songwriterish for this off-the-wall Englishwoman.

Even on the tracks that remind me of the old album, Imogen sounds like she is more comfortable with her sound. Her songs are stronger, more varied, and she throws in unexpected mood changes, nintendo blips and other seemingly odd ideas with smoothness and confidence.

Highlights
Little Bird: Not too far off from the last album, but I love the dark turn into the “Rats in the kitchen” line, followed by the turn way back the other way with some sweet, smooth harmonies on the same lyric.

Bad Body Double: A good head-bobber with some brisk melodies, random shower vocals, my favorite weird imogen voice sound ever at 2:08 , an acoustic guitar breakdown that sounds like Madonna’s Don’t Tell Me, and half-talked vocal lines (boy do I love those). If you are a fan of clever lyrics, this one seems to be an interesting out-of-body take on body image.

Aha!: I might complain that this song doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, but I sometimes like surprises, and this is by far my favorite track on the album. Maybe Imogen loves Danny Elfman as much as I do, and this is how she tells everybody. Whether the musical tip of the hat was purposeful or not, wicked song.

Music Nerdery
For those that don’t know, Danny Elfman is the guy who does most of the scores for Tim Burton movies, especially the spooky ones. He also did the themes for the Simpsons, Futurama, and Desperate Housewives, and he used to have a band called Oingo Boingo. If you haven’t heard Oingo Boingo, check them out for sure. Kinda 80’s new-wave, but with goofy/spooky/morbid lyrics, and all super-talented, well rounded musicains. If you’ve seen Weird Science, they did the theme for that. My favorite song is Little Girls. I think I will put it on this Sunday’s mixtape.

Anyhoo, back on the Imogen Heap train. Imogen seems to enjoy using her voice as an instrument. I’m often surprised on the umpteenth listen of a song when I notice a weird sound I though was some instrument is actually her voice. Sometimes she even does entirely acapella songs that sound very different from traditional vocal-only offerings. On the last album, there was Hide and Seek, which was awesome, and apparently all that was used was her voice (although it sounds like some of it was through a vocoder, which would technically make this song not acapella), and a frying pan. She wanted some sort of weird echo on something, so she sang straight into the frying pan. On this album there is Earth, which, unless my ears fool me, is entirely vocal. Took me a couple listens to notice, because I was looking for something like Hide and Seek with no beat (or in this case, Beatboxing).

Recommendations
Pick this album up in your favorite format. It’s interesting and enjoyable from front to back if you are listening intently, even after multiple listens, and is also great to put on as background music. I find this is rare, music is often either too in your face and/or attention demanding to be background music, or is bland and uninteresting if you enjoy actively listening to music. If anybody sees Ms. Heap, please pass on a high-five from me.

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